No Austin speedy limits?
MORGANTOWN - Speed has never been much of an issue for Tavon Austin. Forget stopwatches and 40 times. Just line him up one-on-one with someone and watch what happens. Seldom is he beaten.
Now, line him up one-on-one with a defensive football player trying to tackle him and the results are even more amazing. That adds quickness to the equation.
Quarterback Geno Smith brought up the old phone booth analogy when talking about his West Virginia teammate, but took it a step further. "It would be hard even for two guys in a phone booth to tackle him,'' Smith said.
In fact, perhaps the only person not completely impressed with Austin's speed heretofore has been coach Dana Holgorsen. It's not that Holgorsen isn't impressed by Austin's speed, but he never really liked the fact that it took having a football in his hands before he would showcase it.
Apparently that's not a problem anymore.
"He's looking really good. He's moving a lot faster than he did,'' Holgorsen said of the 5-foot-9, 174-pound senior-to-be. "One of the deals that we were talking about him earlier is that he's fast 15 percent of the time, when the ball is in his hands, and not fast when the ball's not in his hands. Now he's playing fast all the time. He looks like a totally different guy, which is obviously exciting.''
Better than last year? A year ago as a junior, Austin caught 101 passes for 1,186 yards and eight touchdowns. Half of those touchdowns - on 12 catches for 123 yards - came in his most recent game, the 70-33 rout of Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
And now he's a totally different guy?
"Right now, Tavon is leading this offense. There's no doubt about it,'' said Smith, himself a 4,385-yard, 31-touchdown passer a season ago. "In the Orange Bowl he took it upon himself to be that guy in this offense and now he's just making us go.
"Not to say anything about the rest of our receivers, but he's one of those special guys who can make something happen any time he touches the ball.''
Holgorsen now hopes that Austin can make things happen when he doesn't have the ball, too. That's where that speed comes in. Austin can be quicker down the field, quicker to pull defenders with him, quicker to get to blocks.
But Austin has also improved his strength in the offseason, which makes him an even more dangerous threat.
"He's got great hand-eye coordination. He's strong,'' Holgorsen said. "There are guys with muscles who aren't strong. He's got a grip, and he's got strength. He can snatch that thing out of the air. I don't know what his vertical is. I hate that weight room. I don't go down there.''
How an improved Austin will play into West Virginia's offensive plans for 2012 remains to be seen. After all, he averaged almost eight catches a game last season, along with a rush or two per game on which he averaged 11.4 yards. He also returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and averaged 14.1 yards on punt returns.
Then again, in the bowl game, he caught four passes more than his average, doubled his receiving touchdown total and couldn't have done much more. All of which led Holgorsen to crack that perhaps we've already seen his plans for Austin next season.
"We've got to get him the ball more. We did that in the bowl game. He touched it quite a bit," Holgorsen said. "Let's try to do that again.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.